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Morpheus – The Mythical Truck of Dreams

Our New Zealand correspondent John Murphy catches up with Morpheus, a customised Kenworth K108 working the eastern Bay of Plenty on the North Island.

Morpheus is a name with a long historical tale, originally the mythological Greek god of dreams, this century the name has found a new following amongst fans of the science fiction trilogy, The Matrix. The series features a heroic inspirational leader played by Laurence Fishburne going by the name of Morpheus.
Holden, a few years back, brought out a paint named Morpheus Purple, the untraditional shade has become a standout feature of several custom vehicles. It is a colour that often invokes strong love/hate emotions and has developed a cult following that probably runs deeper than that of any other colour except black.
All three incarnations of the Morpheus name inextricably weave their way into the new Kenworth K108 logger created and custom painted for North Island logging operator Selwyn “Smilie” Kirkino, and of course, christened Morpheus.
Depending on certain criteria, trucks meeting earlier emission standards could still be registered for on road use in New Zealand up until recently. K series Kenworths fitted with latest grille and cab could be homologated with earlier engines and still carried the old K108 model designation. Morpheus falls into this category.
The Kenworth is a twin steer rigid towing a five-axle dog trailer, a combination that is quickly becoming the standard for Kiwi logging rigs. Nine axles with a 21 metre distance between the first and last axle are the primary criteria allowing combinations to meet 50MAX and operate at up to 50 tonne gross mass on most roads.
Smilie and the trailer designers faced some challenges designing a five-axle trailer that could be piggybacked on the back of the truck when empty to reduce the cost of RUC (road user charges) and still meet legal requirements such as rear overhang. Morpheus is the first K series Kenworth sleeper to be matched up to a five-axle dog and Smilie credits Kraft Trailers of Rotorua with doing a superb job.
Morpheus is one hard working unit, double shifted five days a week it pulls logs from the Tuhoe forest blocks during the day and works the greater central North Island at night. Dragging maximum mass loads through steep rough forest roads demands quality gear and quality drivers, something Smilie is well aware of. He double shifts the truck with Rawiri “Rock” Wanoa, a driver with 20 years experience who has worked with Smilie for five years.
The Tuhoe forests were planted to provide work and income for Tuhoe tribe members. The operation is proving successful and harvesting the pine trees provides local work and income, while the economic success of the forests increases the mana (pride) of the Tuhoe people. Only people with an attachment to Tuhoe are permitted to work in the forests. Smilie is a Tuhoe descendant and Rock is married to a Tuhoe lady.
The area where the Tuhoe forests grow, known locally as “The Nation”, is a heavily forested region in the eastern Bay of Plenty on the North Island. The tribe has traditionally had a strained relationship with the government and strongly adheres to Maori tradition with many of them still speaking the Maori language.
I joined Rock at 5am on a Monday morning at Smilie’s workshop in the coastal town of Whakatane, the rig was already loaded with export logs and ready for the hour long trip west along the coast to the port at Mount Maunganui. With an all up weight of 50 tonne the Cummins ISX EGR Gen II, 615 horsepower engine doesn’t work hard at all. Rock uses cruise control to ensure he keeps within the 90kph speed limit and only needs to use the manual Roadranger when slowing through towns and intersections. At the port the logs are efficiently scaled (measured and the timber volume calculated), before a log loader lifts the full packets off the truck and trailer.
Rock parks the rig under a gantry and hoists the trailer onto the truck. It’s a tight fit and he won’t use the headboard on the immaculate truck to knock the hanging trailer into alignment, so he has to get out a couple of times, swing the turntable around 180 degrees so the drawbar is under the trailer and swing the unit into position to land directly on the supports when lowered, and not damage any paintwork. It’s not a big job and if there’s more than one truck lined up one driver will maneuver the hanging trailer while the other reverses the truck under it.
The next pickup is from a skid site deep in The Nation and we follow the coast back east before turning south through the town of Taneatua and heading up the valley into Ruatoki. Rock greets other drivers over the radio with Mōrena (good morning), but the traffic gets thin after we cross a long bridge and turn off the seal onto the forestry road. He calls across the radio at regular points, letting other trucks know of Morpheus’ route to ensure there’s no unexpected meetings on the narrow, increasingly windy road.
Before long we back into the skid site and Rock unloads and connects the trailer with the help of the log clamp operator, who then loads the rig. The route out is mostly downhill with steep drops and soft edges, the impressive Jacobs Brake and Rock’s driving skill keep the fully loaded rig safe and Morpheus reaches the seal without stress. Rock says, “You get to find your feet in all kinds of weather, the rain is the worst.”
The load is safely delivered and Rock heads off for his third load of the day, this time without a passenger.
Smilie has been in forestry for 25 years, starting as a 15 year old planting and pruning, he has worked his way through felling, machine operation, crew management and become a registered trainer. After that he got into log truck driving and six years ago he bought his first truck. After two Freightliner Argosys he decided on a change of brand and chose Kenworth. His partner Glennis Tupe sums it up, “This is Selwyn’s dream, to own his own logging truck and he has worked hard for this and everything he has achieved.”
The K series is a well-proven truck in New Zealand’s forests, but Smilie ordered a few variations on the typical standard. Few loggers sport sleeper cabs and Morpheus has EBS and disc brakes all round – an option Smilie chose to overcome the common and expensive problem of unevenly performing drum brakes during roadside police inspections. The paint was applied at the factory.
Cliff Mannington at Truck Signs in Mount Maunganui designed and applied the custom paintwork and signage after lengthy discussions with Smilie and truck salesman Andrew “Scotty” Haberfied. Cliff is a renowned airbrush artist known for pushing the boundaries with his excellent truck work, and Morpheus is a particularly good example of his artistry. He spent about 120 hours working on the truck and many more dreaming and planning what to do with the purple cab that he knew would “make a statement on the road”.
The company name Tawharau Transport Ltd, is displayed three dimensionally to the doors signs using a technique that Cliff has developed to raise the surface by a few millimetres, it looks impressive and appears to withstand the rigours of hard work and cleaning comfortably too.
Chris Stanley made the stainless steel sun visor and added more lights, while Rotorua’s Ticklepenny Auto Electrical installed the purple lighting under the cab and on the chassis.
A feature of the truck is the custom exhaust covers, above the vertical, illuminated Kirkino stencils, the names of Smilie’s two daughters Danae and Rivana are stenciled and lit. One on each side, Smilie says the plan was to put both names on each side, but the girls wanted an exclusive side each. Depending on how the lighting is switched, different colours, including ever changing rainbow hues illuminate the Kirkino signage. The colours are controlled by a handheld remote.
Smilie says, “I just wanted to build something that I would like looking at, hopefully others will like looking at it too.”
We’re sure Australian Custom Truck readers will like looking at Morpheus too.

CREDITS: Article & Photography John Murphy featured in issue ACT 5.